Recorded when the cast were at the height of their combined talents, this is a wonderful, heartbreaking recording that will bowl over anyone who enjoys good singing and sincere interpretation. Although the score is not absolutely complete, many traditional cuts are reinstated (the cabalettas for the two Germonts, for example) and it is conducted with a Toscanini - like feverishness by Kleiber. There is more ebb and flow to his reading than in the old recording by the great Italian conductor, and he is more sympathetic to his singers, but he sweeps the listener along with the sheer passion and drama of his conception of the opera: it's like a race against time, and a thrilling ride.
Amidst this hectic adrenalin rush, Domingo and Milnes still shine with both giving sensitive, warm singing. But of course it is Ileana Cotrubas' Violetta that makes this recording irresistable. Hers is a young, vulnerable almost pathetic heroine, crushed by the weight of the double standard that allows men to condemn her for having "a past". Her highly sensitive and deeply intelligent singing, her unusual and often breathtakingly beautiful timbre haunts the listener like no other.
Few Violetta's can look deep inside the soul of the part and communicate that to their audience. The party scenes are dazzlingly sung; "sempre libera" hold no fears even though it pushes her to her limits. It becomes a scene of defiant desperation, a decision to cling to life, a wonderful expression of the character and never a show piece. She caps it with a high E flat in alt. Elsewhere the big key scenes - "Amami Alfredo" and the final aria "addio del Passato" are all done superbly. Hers is not a big round voice like Sutherland, nor a spinto like Scotto. But no other singer since Callas has sounded so ill, so frantic, so tragic, or so RIGHT.
Fabulous sound, and some reissues are a mid-price. It's a traviata to die for, and a recording to live with.